Alexander McCall Smith

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Alexander McCall Smith’s mystery series, particularly the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series, have gained a wide and loyal following of readers worldwide, but critics are divided on the worth of his contributions to the genre as a whole. Although some critics term his emphasis on human decency a retreat from the harsh realities of the modern world, others laud his focus on values as either an antidote to or an expansion of those realities. In an age when many espionage and true-crime stories are ripped from the headlines, McCall Smith seemingly draws his inspiration from otherwise underreported, and perhaps undervalued, stories of human interest.

Whether McCall Smith’s mystery series are set in the remote but developing country of Botswana, or the established metropolis of Edinburgh, Scotland, his principal characters are women and men of conscience who strive to live decent lives. To take action in response to an outright crime or to investigate a mysterious circumstance is a moral choice on their parts. Characters such as Precious Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie choose involvement in the lives of others and in their communities in cases where others, in fiction and in life, would most likely remain apathetic.


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Bettinger, Elfie. “Riddles in the Sands of the Kalahari: Detectives at Work in Botswana.” In Postcolonial Postmortems: Crime Fiction from a Transcultural Perspective, edited by Christine Matzke and Susanne Mühleisen. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006. Analyzes works featuring Ramotswe in terms of their placement in the postcolonial landscape of contemporary African society.

Block, Allison. Review of Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, by Alexander McCall Smith. Booklist 101, no. 21 (July, 2005): 1877. Praises Smith’s colorful depiction of Edinburgh and his creation of moral philosopher-turned-sleuth Isabel Dalhousie.

Glover, Sandy. Review of 44 Scotland Street, by Alexander McCall Smith. Library Journal 131, no. 4 (March, 2006): 134-135. Reviews the first volume in Smith’s third detective series. Regards residents who inhabit 44 Scotland Street as representative of various levels of Edinburgh society.

McCall Smith, Alexander. Alexander McCall Smith. Author’s Web site provides a biography, plot summaries for all his novels, newsletter, forum, and listing of signings and other events.

Matzke, Christine. “A Good Woman in a Good Country: Or, The Essence Is in the Pumpkin—Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Ramotswe Novels as a Case of Postcolonial Nostalgia.” Wasafiri: The Transnational Journal of International Writing 47 (Spring, 2006): 64-71. Posits that Smith’s novels present an overly simplistic Botswana, one indicative of the author’s longing for a way of life that supposedly existed before colonial independence.

Mekgwe, Pinkie. “All That Is Fine in the Human Condition: Crafting Words, Creating Mma Ramotswe.” Research in African Literatures 37, no. 2 (Summer, 2006): 176-186. Smith discusses his creation of Ramotswe, a character whom he believes appeals to readers weary of the nihilism that dominates contemporary literature.

Nicoll, Ruaridh. “Applied Ethics: Alexander McCall Smith’s New Female Detective—an Edinburgh Bluestocking—Is No Less Delightful than Her African Predecessor.” New Statesman 133, no. 4704 (September, 2004): 52-54. Compares McCall Smith’s new female detective favorably to Precious Ramotswe.

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Critical Essays